Weekly Web Watch 08/17/09 – 08/23/09


Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge reveals, in a forthcoming book, that he was pressured by the White House to raise the Threat Level Advisory (the color code) in order to influence the 2004 election.  Calling it an “intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security,” Ridge explains that the episode led to his resignation.  Former Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend denied the allegation.  Ridge first made these allegations in 2005;   Ridge also claims that he never attended National Security Council meetings and that the White House thwarted his plan to reorganize FEMA prior to Katrina.  Caleb Howe takes a skeptical look at the claims and comes away wondering if this isn’t just effective marketing by Ridge’s publisher.

Scotland released Libyan agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1983 Lockerbie bombing.  Al-Megrahi suffers from terminal prostate cancer.  The U.S. lobbied against the release.  Part of his release involved his agreement to drop an appeal against his conviction.  That leads some to question whether this release is part of a deal between the U.K. and Libya to bury potentially thorny questions about who is actually responsible for the bombing (al-Megrahi, whatever his involvement, is not alleged to have been the mastermind).

The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate Democrats and the White House are considering splitting the health-care reform bill in two in order to use the reconciliation procedure to pass some elements.  Reaction to this idea, Philip Klein reports, seems mostly negative.  Meanwhile, President Obama published an op-ed in the New York Times to promote his health-care agenda.  David Rivkin and Lee Casey argue that the proposed health-care reform is, in any case, unconstitutionalJonathan Adler and Jack Balkin both disagree with that argument (and with each other).

Presidential elections were held in Afghanistan.  Afghani officials call the election a success, at least from a security point of view, with no major disruptions.  This story is disputed by some journalists; if they are correct, and people were staying away from the polling places, then it may prove Anne Applebaum correct that the Taliban’s goal in the elections was to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the new Afghan president.  Bill Roggio, however, sees proof that the Taliban is too weak to mount a major offensive against an obvious target.

Daphne Eviatar reports that the Obama administration is now holding at least three detainees at Guantanamo in defiance of court orders that they be released.  However, they are now holding at least one with a federal court’s approval.

A federal judge ruled that the legal team for Guantanamo detainee Abdul Raheem Ghulam Rabbani can question alleged al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in order to prepare his defense.  Thomas Joscelyn expresses his disappointment that a judge, who has no experience in national security, would allow this to proceed.

The Justice Department is investigating three defense lawyers at Guantanamo after the lawyers allegedly showed detainees pictures of CIA personnel in order to determine who was involved in abusive treatment.  Joshua Dratel explains that, at this point, it is unclear which laws the lawyers are alleged to have broken.

Newsweek reports that the CIA used “mock executions” on suspected terrorists.  In one alleged case, a detainee was menaced with a power drill and a gun; in another, a detainee heard a gunshot that he was supposed to understand as the execution of another detainee.

In May, President Obama stated that Guantanamo probably created more terrorists than it detained.  Deborah Pearlstein, asked to respond to this assertion, offers some evidence for that view.

The New York Times reports that Blackwater may have been involved in assassinating suspected terrorist leaders for the CIA.  Mark Mazzetti also reports that Blackwater contractors were used to maintain and operate unmanned aerial vehicles that the CIA now uses for assassination missions.

ABC News reports that the CIA had a “black site” detention building located near Vilnius, Lithuania.  The CIA and the Lithuanian government refuse to confirm the story.

Insurgents bombed two Iraqi ministries, raising concerns that violence in that country could escalate again.

The Washington Post has the scoop on the process that led to the abrupt change of commanders in Afghanistan this year.  According to the Post, Gen. David McKiernan was forced out mostly because of his incompatibility with Washington.

Does President Obama forgo wearing neckties because he views them as signs of “Western decadence?”  Andy McCarthy reports, you decide.

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